Our diplomats have sided with authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and China on the issue of freedom of expression online.
Online freedom resolution passes despite best efforts by Russia, China et al
The United Nations officially condemned the practice of countries shutting down access to the internet at a meeting of the Human Rights Council on Friday.
A resolution [PDF] entitled The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Interneteffectively extends human rights held offline to the internet. It was passed by consensus, but only after a determined effort by a number of countries, including China and Russia, to pull out key parts of the text.
In particular, a number of states – notable by their authoritarian stances – were opposed to the resolution’s focus on the need for an accessible and open internet, and its condemnation of violations against people for expressing their views online. A vote planned for Thursday was delayed until Friday after the issue became heated.
Four amendments pulling out that language was tabled, but none were adopted after an impassioned debate.
Some were surprised by the 13 other countries that lined up with Russia and China in an effort to delete the text on ensuring access to the internet. Among such authoritarian regimes as Saudi Arabia and Qatar were also democracies including India and South Africa.
Likewise on a second amendment to remove references to freedom of expression. Russia and China were joined by 15 other countries including India, Kenya and South Africa.
“We are disappointed that democracies like South Africa, Indonesia, and India voted in favour of these hostile amendments to weaken protections for freedom of expression online,” said Thomas Hughes, the executive director of Article 19, a charity focused on protecting freedom of expression. He added: “The resolution is a much-needed response to increased pressure on freedom of expression online in all parts of the world.”
Among the key extracts in the resolutions are:
- That people have the same rights online as offline, “in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice.”
- That human rights violations enacted against people due to making their views known online are “condemned unequivocally,” and states are held accountable for any such violations.
- Any measures to “intentionally prevent or disrupt access” to the internet are also “condemned unequivocally,” and all states should “refrain from and cease such measures.”
In effect, that means that the expanding use of internet shutdowns by governments claiming national security issues or even, in the case of Iraq, to prevent exam cheating, will now go against formal UN policy. ®
Following the passing of the resolution, freedom of expression organisation Article 19 expressed disappointment with South Africa.
“Democracies like South Africa, Indonesia, and India voted in favour of these hostile amendments to weaken protections for freedom of expression online”, said Article 19.
The resolution was titled “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”, and was adopted when more than 70 states supported it on 1 July.
States are bound to refrain from “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online”.
This includes measures to shut down the Internet or part of the Internet at any time, such as during an election or in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, said Article 19.”
By: Kieren McCarthy
South Africa votes against Internet for all
A “human rights-based approach” was also included in the resolution, to provide and expand access to the Internet.
South Africa was one of 15 countries that voted in favour of an amendment led by China and Russia to have this section removed.
Other countries which voted with South Africa included Burundi, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.
South Africa votes against human rights online
Another amendment aimed to remove references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and language on freedom of expression from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
States voting in favour of the amendment included South Africa, Bolivia, China, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.
The full resolution is available on Article 19’s website.